Politicizing Junior High LiteratureBy Peter Wilson
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, including the New York State Education Department, which publishes a document titled, "Grades 6-8 English Language Arts Curriculum Map." Four texts are specified for each year, or 12 books.
The idea of a core curriculum is appealing to conservatives, who imagine replacing the current multicultural smorgasbord with a great books course that communicates the adventure and drama of human experience. In the hands of education bureaucrats, however, this junior high school literature curriculum is a biased collection, selected for the most part to indict America for its sins:
America's children should certainly learn about our shameful history of racism, but it is so overdone by our educational establishment that my kids roll their eyes when they're forced to sit through another racism assembly or read another slave narrative. Of the twelve books in the Core Curriculum, five deal with racism:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960) is an American classic in which the heroic Atticus Finch stands up to evil of bigotry in the American South under Jim Crow laws. It merits inclusion in a balanced curriculum, which this is not.
2. Bud Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis (2000) -- An African-American orphan in 1936 looks for his father. From an Amazon review: "Curtis tackles obvious racism, and a range of other issues like homelessness, poverty, familial issues, and the Great Depression."
3. Dragonwings -- Lawrence Yep (1975) -- Chinese immigrants face racism in San Francisco in 1903. The Glencoe Study Guide reports that "The United States had long discriminated against Asian immigrants" (true enough) and that the author's "experiences as a youth [in San Francisco in the 1950s] made him feel like an outsider... he did not feel part of the community. He says that he felt as if he were the neighborhood's 'all-purpose Asian.'"
4. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) "One of the most influential pieces of literature to fuel the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century in the United States" (Wikipedia).
5. Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanh ha Lai (2011) -- The back cover describes a just downright mean America:
Environmental Destruction and Global Warming
A second group of texts addresses America's role in the environmental degradation of the planet.
6. Frightful's Mountain, Jean Craighead George (2001) -- This book about a condor appears in the unit, "Insecticides: Controlling Disease or Saving Wildlife?" Is this really a "core" element in the education of every American 6th grader? From the Amazon.com review: "George's narrative follows the falcon through a series of dangerous adventures (involving DDT, electricity lines, and unscrupulous bird traders, to name a few)... The environmental message is slightly heavy-handed."
7. "Water is Life" by Barbara Kingsolver (National Geographic article, 2010) -- Leftist author Kingsolver has lamented that "communist" is a pejorative and has written a novel portraying Trotsky favorably. She writes in the article:
8. A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park (2010) is the third book in the curriculum about immigrants arriving in America. Park portrays America favorably and the adoptive American family of a Sudanese Lost Boy as kind and caring. The theme of water shortage read in conjunction with Barbara Kingsolver's global warming jeremiad, however, might lead 7th graders to assume that American CO2 "pollution" is responsible for the shortage of water in the Sudanese desert.
9. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2006), part of a unit titled, "Sustainability of World's Food Supply." Pollan avoids the strident polemics of leftist critics of the American food industry like Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, but it's a questionable choice for eighth graders who don't comprehend that humanity has teetered on the edge of starvation for most of its history.
10. Lyddie, Katherine Patterson (1991) -- A young girl working in the brutal conditions of the Lowell mills speaks up for "better working conditions" -- a young adult Norma Rae union organizer. I wouldn't want my daughters to work in the Lowell textile mills, but when tourists from England visited in the 1850s, Lowell was a required stop to view the humane working conditions that contrasted with Britain's dark Satanic mills.
11. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (2010) -- I enjoyed this book, but the Common Core places it in a unit where students "Analyze Conflicting Information about Japanese Internment."
Rather than learning about the heroism of World War II, when Americans rescued the world from Nazism, Fascism, and Japanese imperialism, students learn about America's sin of Japanese internment. Heroism is defined as remaining an "unbroken" victim of war, rather than a victorious warrior.
12. The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan (2005) -- This fantasy-adventure graphic novel, source of a popular 2010 movie, might not stand the test of time, but it does not seem to be overtly political. It appears in a unit on Greek mythology. Is this an acknowledgement of the Greek foundations of Western civilization? More likely a means to undermine Judeo-Christian monotheism by exposing students to pantheism.
● Every selection consigns other books to oblivion. A book published in 2011 by a disgruntled Vietnamese-American author is now one-twelfth of our national junior high curriculum. Does anyone still read Huckleberry Finn, Johnny Tremaine, Robinson Crusoe, or Animal Farm?
● The workload in "English language arts" is not exactly onerous. The sixth grade reading adds up to 904 pages, or 25 pages of easy reading per week. One book is a graphic novel, and Inside Out and Back Again is prose formatted as poetry, with around 40 words per page. Many 12-year olds are capable of devouring an 800-page Harry Potter book in a few days.
● All 12 books are American, and 8 of the 12 were written after 2000.
Leftists like Alinsky and Gramsci preached that the progressive revolution can be achieved by a "long march through the institutions." Taking control of the school curriculum of unformed minds is the most effective way to build the next generation of progressives.
Recently Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill to "pause" implementation of Common Core while they "take a long, hard look" at the standards. Let's hope other states follow suit.
FOLLOW US ON